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Mean Streets

Mean Streets on DVD

Mean Streets, although widely regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time, seems more like an older brother to movies like Goodfellas, Donnie Brasco, and Once Upon a Time in America, films which took the gangster movie formula and made it better.

The film is a semi-autobiographical tale about Martin Scorsese’s life in New York’s Little Italy, before he became a household name.

Harvey Keitel plays Charlie, a young man working his way through the ranks of a local mob. His job basically consists of collecting money from the people who owe his employer. But of course, not everybody is willing to pay, so things tend to get a little ugly. It doesn’t help that Charlie befriends Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro), a bad seed who’s a little crazy to boot. Charlie has to keep getting Johnny Boy out of trouble, and keep himself out of trouble at the same time.

If everything went smoothly, we wouldn’t have much of a movie, now would we?

Mean Streets is the movie that put Scorsese on the map. It’s a fine movie, with some great direction and one of De Niro’s best performances to date (and that is saying quite a bit). But having seen the aforementioned films prior to the first viewing of Mean Streets, it just doesn’t seem as good as them. Granted, it’s a much lower budget, much older film whose flaws are probably only visible to someone who is more of a modern movie buff than a classic movie buff.

On the other hand, Mean Streets is much more intimate than any modern gangster film. Charlie is in pretty much every scene, and there are no other characters we really care too much about. And Charlie’s a decent guy; he’s only doing what he does because it’s his job. He tries to help people out whenever he can. He just happens to be working for the mob, which in itself is not the most honest of professions.

But however you feel about Mean Streets, you can’t deny that it is a classic that began the career of one of Hollywood’s finest. Chances are you’d enjoy Scorsese’s definitive masterpiece, Goodfellas, even more. However, if you’re a fan of the genre, you won’t find much to complain about here.

While it’s advertised on the box as a special edition, the DVD of Mean Streets isn’t quite that. It looks great, it sounds pretty good, but the extras are pretty slim. The picture is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and despite the age and budget, everything looks surprisingly impressive. Color-wise, the movie is pretty dull, but the picture is pretty sharp. Blacks are fairly dark, but you can almost always make out the details. A few spots suffer from intense grain, but it doesn’t happen often enough to be a concern.

Audio is Dolby Digital mono, and it sounds good for what it is, but there’s too much going on for it to really be great. There’s plenty of dialogue, music and sound effects all fighting for space, and during the scenes in which they’re all prominent, it’s often the dialogue that s6uffers the most. This is a disc that could have really used a 5.1 audio track, but it probably wouldn’t have been remastered that well, anyway.

Scorsese sorta provides an audio commentary for the film. He talks only during a few select scenes, though, totaling about half an hour. He spends time discussing the events that led to him making Mean Streets, but not a lot of time discussing Mean Streets itself. When he’s talking, he has some good stuff to say, but there should have been a lot more there.

“Back on the Block” is a 7-minute vintage featurette that doesn’t really have much to say. It does, however, feature footage of Scorsese’s mother and the childhood friends that inspired the film. Funny stuff.

Finally, we get the theatrical trailer.

Mean Streets, from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
112 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital mono
Starring Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel
Produced by Jonathan T. Taplin
Screenplay by Martin Scorsese and Mardik Martin, Directed by Martin Scorsese


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